Oireachtas powers must be restored
Published 31/01/2016 | 02:30
The limited nature of the Banking Inquiry report has highlighted the constraints placed on the Houses of the Oireachtas to undertake such inquiries in the first place, a situation which needs to be urgently resolved by the new government. It is deeply unsatisfactory that the Irish parliament remains so much less powerful in this field than its equivalents in almost all other EU member states. In the first instance, the new government must restore the delicate balance between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary as part of an inter-related set of deeper reforms which the current Government promised but failed to fully deliver.
That balance was upset by what is known as the Abbeylara judgment, a majority decision of the Supreme Court in April 2002 which identified significant limitations and constraints on the ability of the Oireachtas to undertake inquiries.
A key finding was that the Oireachtas did not have an inherent power to conduct inquiries; that although the Oireachtas could legitimately sanction other bodies and tribunals to investigate matters of public importance, the Oireachtas itself had limited inherent investigative authority. The major issue arising from the judgment was the significant limitations on the power of the Oireachtas to hold parliamentary inquiries into matters involving alleged personal culpability of individual citizens for wrongdoing, resulting in findings potentially damaging to their good name and reputation.
In a belated response, the Government proposed an amendment to the Constitution in 2011 which sought to broaden the inquiry powers of the Oireachtas; indeed, at that time, this proposed amendment was reported in the media to be a "constitutional amendment to help investigate banks". If anything, the Government's response to what was, in any event, a questionable decision by both the High Court and the Supreme Court on Abbeylara would have made a bad situation worse. Those courts had arrived at the right decision in respect of the flawed Abbeylara inquiry itself, but have been accused of doing so on the basis of a flawed reasoning process.
By way of a majority referendum decision, the people rightly in the view of this newspaper rejected what was an ill-judged, over-reaction by the Government to amend the Constitution to take account of the decisions of the High Court and the Supreme Court in the Abbeylara case. The proposed amendment contained a number of utterly disproportionate and completely unjustifiable measures, not least the potential to allow a parliamentary "investigator" appoint a person authorised to get a court warrant to search the home of private citizens in the company of An Garda Siochana.
The Banking Inquiry proves beyond doubt the imperative to restore the rights of the Oireachtas to those which were generally believed to exist prior to the Abbeylara judgments by striking a proper balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of parliament under the Constitution and to give due weight to the Constitutional separation of powers.
The new government must abide by its constitutional duty to widely consult with the people and to carefully debate how the Constitutional balance can be properly restored post the Abbeylara judgments in a manner that respects the fundamental rights of ordinary citizens. An opportunity exists to introduce this critical need in tandem with a series of measures to hold the executive to account, which must include, although not be confined to, the election by secret ballot of the Ceann Comhairle and the chairs and vice-chairs of Oireachtas committees.
Quotes of the week
"A litany of falsification and deception."
Mr Justice John Hedigan dismissing Michael's Lowry's challenge to the Moriarty Tribunal only awarding him one-third of his legal costs.
"Some have been calling me a bit of a dummy for years."
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams on viewing a new waxwork of himself in Dublin.
"If there is a shock, externally or internally, we'll have a contingency fund which we will deploy."
Finance Minister Michael Noonan says he is getting away from the mantra of "what we have, we spend".
"I knew I would be famous, even as a little child I knew how to 'work the room', and it is something that you can't buy; you have it or you don't, and I have it."
Italian lawyer Nancy Dell'Olio.
"If you're bored or you feel like there's a lack of something in front of you... Instead of sitting around and complaining about that, do something. Go write something, go do something."
Actress Kristen Stewart on the alleged Hollywood gender pay gap.
"Cry-bullies on campuses across the land are acting like tinpot tyrants towards anyone who dares to disagree with them."
Commentator Julie Burchill.
"The complaints are anti-white racism. Maybe the black actors don't deserve to be on the final stretch."
Actress Charlotte Rampling hits out at those who protest there are no black actors up for Oscars.
"My first memory of a celebrity chef is from college. It was Keith Floyd. He had so much vino that when he stood up to give a speech he fell over. And I thought: that's the job I want."
TV chef James Martin.
"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's like incredible"
Donald Trump, the leading Republican hopeful for the White House.
"I kind of miss Donald Trump; he was a teddy bear to me."
Jeb Bush, a would-be Republican candidate for the White House, on his rival who boycotted a debate among Republican hopefuls.
"Note to self: don't drive a BV206 over a frozen lake." Singer Ellie Goulding, who had a dramatic escape after her vehicle plunged into an icy lake in Norway.
"My journey is at an end. I have run out of time, physical endurance and the simple, sheer inability to slide one ski in front of the other to travel the distance required to reach my goal. Many mountaineers battle away and fail to reach the summit. My summit was just out of reach."
Explorer Henry Worsley's final message before being rescued just 30 miles from his goal, the South Pole, after a lone trek across Antarctica. He subsequently died.
"I had a very tough father and a very tough brother and if anybody ever came to our house, they never came again."
Actor Sir Michael Caine on his boyhood.
"When the going gets tough a chap needs a sturdy, solid edifice of a woman, built to withstand famine, siege or an infestation of locusts." Broadcaster Vanessa Feltz.